3.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
A very nice example of the we’ve-kind-of-known-each-other stories that Dare seems to like: we have an orphan who’s desperate to know about her past and a soldier who’s obviously had a ridiculously tough life up until now. It’s a twist on the friends-before-lovers trope, with just a hint of mystery and intrigue. In this case, he’s the one who protected her, and now lusts after her… but of course, he thinks he’s generally incapable of love, and, more specifically, undeserving of hers. There are phrases and words that don’t feel quite regency-era, and the ending dragged a little, and became a little overly melodramatic. Still, the characterizations and emotional journeys of the characters are well-done and, at times, riveting. It’s a solid addition to the series, very much in Dare’s usual style.
Kate Taylor is a twenty-three year old music teacher in Spindle Cove, the shared setting for this series. She’s quite beautiful, but has a heart-shaped birthmark on her head that she thinks makes her unattractive, and is an orphan of unknown origins. She has very, very dim memories of her past and desperately wants to believe that, before she was literally left on the doorsteps of an all-girl’s school, she was loved, and that she will be loved again.
Corporal Thorne is a militia commander who is always rude and avoidant of Kate. So much so that she’s never noticed how much he notices her, and is attracted to her.
The main tension here is not lack of attraction. They kiss within the first few chapters, and clearly feel attraction for one another. They’ve become fake-engaged within another couple chapters, and spend the majority of the book almost doing the deed, only to back away, saying: no, we can’t.
Their emotional roller coaster is a similar tease. Because Dare has effectively portrayed two people who clearly belong to one another, are compelled to be together, and are passionate about each other, she has to invent obstacles for them. A long-lost family who comes to claim Kate (are they for real? or are they sinister? are they hiding something? or are they the loving family she’s always hoped for — difficult to attach to this menagerie of well-portrayed eccentrics when we’re not positive of the answer). There’s a puppy (very lovable, of course) who tries to stare down an adder, there’s Thorne’s misplaced sense of what should be done (namely: NOT marrying the woman he won’t admit he loves), and on and on. As usual, with Dare, she can’t help but throw in some twists and turns at the end… not all of which really make sense (or add to the plot).
So… I have to say that the ending was not satisfying (epilogue: cute, ending: meh), and, as usual, there are times when I feel like she takes the humor a little too far (and thus pushes me out of the scene… without giving away too much, I’ll say this: cooking oil, a puppy, and a state of undress).
Still, some of the emotional struggles they go through are just so well done (some are overdone, but some are pitch perfect) that I keep coming back. The first half of this book was a quick, enthralling read (the second half was what dragged it down a little).
Like I said, this isn’t my favorite of what she’s done, but the high notes are so high that I’ll keep coming back despite the fact that some of her characters speak like they’re from the 21st century…
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
Tessa Dare writes very sensual lovemaking scenes that are very emotional and compelling (like Lisa Kleypas, for example), but in this most recent series, and with Thorne, her characters are just harder, obsessed with their pasts, revenge, etc, in a way that reminds me of some of Amanda Quick’s protagonists. I don’t personally think all the plot twists (especially since some of the reveals are often thrown in at the end) really make sense, or add anything to the story… but I usually enjoy her work.